VERONA – No worries.
That was the attitude the third-seeded Cincinnatus boys’ soccer team had at halftime of Tuesday’s Section 3 Class D championship game against top seed Poland at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill’s Sheveron Stadium, despite trailing 1-0.
“We told the boys that it was a new game, to forget the first half,” Cincy coach Gordy Brown said, his team, ranked 13th in the state in Class D, now 17-2 on the season. “We had our chances in that first half, and it was going to happen in the second half. They were ready to go out and get back at it two minutes into halftime. I think they knew.”
What the Red Lions knew was how to win, as they unleashed a lightning attack with three goals in the space of 3:26 early in the second half in what ended up a 3-2 win for Cincinnatus’s second sectional D championship in four years.
The onslaught actually started with a near-goal, as sophomore midfielder Nolan Rice took the ball down deep on the left side and fired a shot that Tornadoes sophomore goalie Connor Broadbent was able to turn aside 1:50 into the second half. The white-clad Cincy squad tied the score 3:19 into the second as sophomore forward Caden Stafford took the ball deep down the left side and sent it over to sophomore midfielder Jacob Smith, who buried a hard shot into the lower right corner of the net.
“I just ran toward the goal and Caden got the ball to me,” Smith said of his seventh goal of the season. It got the team moving, and everyone played great. It woke us up, and we went for another one.”
It took the Red Lions 1:58 more to take the lead they’d never relinquish. Senior forward Nick Owen blasted a shot from 20 yards out that Broadbent was able to stop but couldn’t hang on to, and Cincy freshman midfielder Scott Schuyler was there to score from pointblank range on the right side 5:17 into the second for his third goal of the fall. “Nick took a nice shot, really hard, and I got a nice rebound,” Schuyler said. “Our defense played very well, like it has all sectionals, after we got the lead. We’ve all been playing together since we were little, which helps.”
Just 1:28 after Schuyler scored, Stafford was hauled down in the box and calmly converted a penalty kick for his 42nd goal of the season to make it 3-1 with 33:15 left. “I was going to go to my right, but I saw the goalie lean that way so I switched to the left, which I don’t normally do,” Stafford said of his successful penalty kick. “In the second half we came out on fire; there wasn’t much stopping us. The first 10 minutes we came on strong. I’m just so happy; we all are.”
“We made some mistakes in the first half,” Poland coach Greg Haver said after his team, ranked fourth in the latest state Class D poll, had suffered its first loss in 19 games this season. “I wasn’t happy with the way we played at midfield. We knew what number four (Stafford) was going to do, worked to stop him and he had his way anyway. He set up guys and we were out of position, which is a credit to them. Overall, we knew what they had but just didn’t respond.”
Poland scored the only goal in the first half when sophomore forward Kade Ozog sent a high, hard shot from 10 yards out past Cincy senior goalie Jeffrey Rice after a cross from sophomore midfielder Dale Lepper on the right side. The Tornadoes had almost taken the lead 6:15 into the game, but Cincy sophomore defender Trent Streichert made a sliding save on a shot by Lepper with Rice down after a collision with an oncoming Ozog.
Poland had another sterling chance late in the first half as Rice stuffed Ozog on a shot from point-blank range deep on the right side and the follow-up hit the outer side of the net.
After falling behind 3-1, the Tornadoes kept on pressing and made it a one-goal game with 20:28 left when Ozog headed home his second goal of the game and 19th of the season off a cross from the left side by Lepper. Rice was tested twice more in the contest, on a 30-yard looping shot from the left side by Lepper with 11:15 left and a hard 20-yard roller from the right side by senior fullback Hunter Broadbent with six minutes left.
The Red Lions had a 16-12 shot advantage in the game and each team took four corner kicks. Rice and Broadbent each made 10 saves.
The Cincy boys’ sectional title came three days after the Red Lion girls had earned a share of the Class D sectional championship in a scoreless tie with Poland in the Class D title contest at SUNY Cortland.
They then advanced to the state regionals (quarterfinals) by winning 4-2 on penalty kicks. The girls will play Section 4 champion Downsville Friday at Herkimer County CC starting at 5:30 p.m. and the boys will go against Section 4 champion Marathon, at 16-2-1 the sixthranked Class D team in the state, Saturday at the Wright National Soccer Campus in Oneonta, the time to be determined.
“It was a double by the Cincy boys and girls this season, and I’m proud of it,” said Brown, who noted that he helps the girls’ team with some advice when asked. “And this is our league’s third D championship in four years (Cincy in 2015 and McGraw in 2016 prior to this year); some people used to say that CCL stood for Can’t Compete League, and that (ticked) us all off. There were people from every league school here tonight supporting us.”
And what about Saturday’s game, a rematch of a 2-1 nonleague win by host Marathon on Sept. 24?
“I think we learned a lot about each other, and we didn’t play very well that day,” Brown said of the season’s first matchup between the squads. “They’re not going to muscle us off like they did last time.”